In the Bleak Midwinter

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by Brian Waple

As I began reflecting on writing a Last Word for this week, I asked myself, “What would people need to hear?” Do they need to hear how much God loves them? Probably—we all need to be reminded of that. Or perhaps they need to hear about Christ’s substitutionary atonement for their sins. Again, in and of itself that’s good stuff, but not this week. Maybe they need to hear more about Pastor Martin’s new vision for creating a culture of being “disciples who make disciples among those who are not disciples” outside the walls of Elim. He promised we would hear more about that in the weeks to come.

Okay, so what then? I was ruminating on this and looking out the window and watching the rain, and then it dawned on me. As you may or may not know, winters in the Pacific Northwest can be difficult for some people (myself included). There is a bleakness to the winters here that makes us all groan for summer and warmer weather. That’s an interesting word—bleak. Dictionary.com gives this definition: “without hope or encouragement; depressing; dreary.” I have said many times how dreary the winters are here … but hopeless?

There is a wonderful old Christmas hymn that I remember singing as a kid. It’s called In the Bleak Midwinter, and the words of the hymn were written by Christina Rossetti in the late 1800s. The last line of the hymn goes like this:

“What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” (my italics)

Giving one’s heart means not holding back at all. In the hymn, Rossetti is speaking about what we have to give the Christ child. And even in the midst of our most abject poverty, when we have nothing left to give, we can still give our heart! It is interesting when we reflect on what God gave us. Almighty God could have given in to the desires that spring up from our wildest dreams. But He didn’t; instead, He gave us the most precious thing He had to give: He gave us his Son. He gave us His heart. And with that gift, we are not hopeless.

So, when life seems as bleak as a Pacific Northwest winter, the hope that we who call Jesus Lord and Savior have transcends the bleakness, the dreariness, the hopelessness. And that hope should encourage us to be willing to give our hearts to others. Maybe it’s toward your neighbor; maybe it’s toward a stranger; maybe it’s toward a friend; maybe it’s toward a family member. For many of us, this is all we can give. But it’s the giving of our hearts to others, as God freely did toward us, that helps transform us into the people God created us to be.

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Let’s Learn How to Encourage Each Other—TODAY!

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By Brian Sharpe, Senior Associate Pastor

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” – Hebrews 3:13

Why didn’t I have to take a class before becoming a parent—or even a husband? I took classes to be a leader in the Church, but not as many I probably should have. Obviously, I didn’t take a class on being a son or friend—I could probably use schooling on how to be a better friend. As I sit in on trainings, I keep walking away with the thought, “Why didn’t I know this already?”

A lot of times as a leader, parent, friend, and husband, we do what was modeled to us. The problem is that our models all have flaws. My kids have a flawed model whose growth is stunted by my own insecurity, naivety, and pride. At this point, I am okay with the fact that I am a flawed leader, parent, husband, son, and friend. But I do have a desire to be better.

This week I was in Austin, Texas, for a Leadership Pipeline cohort. This was the second of three cohort classes on creating a leadership pipeline within a church. I love this idea. I love the thought of having trained leaders who are accomplishing the ministry God has given us as a church. Yet the thing that stood out to me the most from this class was not the system and tools we were taught, but something the facilitator said.

Let me set the stage. One of the tools we were working on creating was a one-hour training that we could bring back to our churches. The facilitator created a training and had us work on it days before the class. He then modeled what the training looked like, using a couple of our classmates. The training was on “encouraging the soul of a person.”

During the training, the facilitator made a comment that we as parents need to not encourage our kids to perform, but to encourage them in who they are. I am not sure I heard much else after that. It really made me consider how I encourage my kids as a parent. This also can be as a leader, husband, son, and friend. Encouragement needs to be sincere, specific, and strengths-focused. Here are some excerpts from our homework, written by our facilitator, Mac Lake.

Sincerity: Before speaking words of encouragement, check your motives and make sure you’re doing it to lift up the other individual, not to gain something for yourself. In Proverbs 26:28, Solomon warns us, “a flattering mouth works ruin.” The Hebrew word for ruin comes from a root word meaning, “to push, drive away, or cast down.” Encouragement is always best served with a spirit of sincerity.

Specificity: If you want your words of praise to have more punch, then be specific with your encouragement. Notice the specifics of what people do well and consider how what they did impacted you personally. If you look closely enough, you can find little nuances that made something special. We must look for and praise the specific detail of an individual’s work. That kind of specificity takes encouragement to a very deep and meaningful level. So instead of saying, “Hey, you did a good job,” you can say, “When you led the small-group discussion tonight, you really asked insightful questions that challenged my thinking in new ways. You have a real gift for making people think. I appreciate you using that gift to add value to my spiritual walk.” Specific encouragement is meaningful encouragement.

Strengths-focused: God has gifted each of us in very specific ways. Each day, we use and develop those strengths. Over time, as those strengths develop and mature, they become obvious to others. The Apostle Paul had been around young Timothy so much that he became very familiar with his apprentice’s strengths. And then, in a very crucial time in Timothy’s ministry, Paul told him, “Fan into flame the gifts God has given you.” By centering our encouragement on someone’s strengths, we are, in essence, helping them to fan the flame of their strengths. Giving someone sincere, specific encouragement that’s focused on their unique strengths helps them learn something new about themselves and deepens their wisdom and insights for using that particular strength.

Elim’s community group leaders should be shining stars when it comes to encouraging others. This Saturday evening, therefore, we are going to huddle together and go through the same training module that Mac took us through at the Leadership Pipeline meetings in Texas this week. We encourage every community group leader to attend, 7 p.m. at Larry and Darlene Short’s home. You won’t want to miss it!

Let’s all become expert encouragers, learning how to truly exhort one another “while it is still called ‘today.’”

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